By Danielle Farrow
Propeller’s all-male production of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays is justly popular in its own right as a fast-paced, visually elegant and fun-packed event.
As the different threads of challenged lovers, amateur actors and sparring fairies are mixed and mingled in court and woods, Edward Hall’s direction and the talented ensemble’s energy make sure the scenes rip along at a roaring speed, punctuated by instrumental soundscapes, music, great comedy crescendos and well-executed design.
Michael Pavelka’s hanging walls that look like crochet, with a row of chairs attached partway up, and diaphanous drapes for imagery and concealment allow hidden entrances and exits and provide different visual layers, put to use particularly for the fairy elements. The white of these is reflected in the basic outfits of the performers, whose shirts, corsets, breeches and tights make them look, in Pavelka’s own words, like ‘androgynous mannequins’. This allows the brown coats of the would-be actor tradesmen, the furs, skirts and formal coats of the courtiers and the dark feathers and robe of Titania and Oberon to clearly delineate the characters of the differing worlds, which is both visually satisfying and practically useful as many actors perform multiple roles.
Men playing women can enter panto dame territory, particularly in a comedy, but Propeller avoid this by not using falsely-pitched voices and mostly avoiding ‘camp’ gesturing. You are aware that you are watching men, but they move well in their female clothing, in a believably feminine manner rather than as caricatures. Matthew McPherson as Hermia kept impressive energy, while Dan Wheeler as Helena displayed great technique in snap emotional changes and truly specific acting. The latter was not always evident (particularly early on) when lines delivered to a fast, but overly consistent rhythm, sometimes lacked emotional connection and specific intent. James Tucker, however, showed exactly how to use Shakespeare’s verse in Titania’s speech on climate change, where the strong drive forward that marks Propeller plays (and should be part of all Shakespeare performances), was enhanced by thoroughly nuanced thought and emotion, along with vocal flexibility. When this level of performance is reached throughout, Hall’s vision of the Dream as ‘a beautiful and soulful story’ will be fully realised.
Highlights include: Puck’s account of turning Bottom into an ass played out after the interval rather like a television recap after adverts; the quarrel of the lovers (including Helena’s wonderfully played appeal to Hermia and the details of their friendship) and its brilliantly executed aftermath as Puck leads them all astray; the finding of new ways to add to the comedy of the tradesmen’s chaotic play and its ‘very tragical mirth’; and the use of instruments by the ensemble highlighting, supporting and punctuating information, magical action and scene-setting, along with some very fine songs.
Propeller’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ explores this well-known play with the company’s characteristic understanding accompanied by irreverent touches, bringing fresh fun to an oft-performed classic and making the time fly in pure enjoyment.
Propeller also presents ‘The Comedy of Errors’: Fri. 18th, 7.30pm and Sat. 19th, 2pm
Wednesday 16th, Thursday 17th & Saturday 19th April, 7.30pm and Thursday 17th, 2pm @ King’s Theatre.